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tavis: good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight on this king day, 2010, a conversation with one of dr. king's closest friends and confidentes, harry belafonte. he first met dr. king in the 1950's and the two remained very close until king's assassination. he shares the man, the movement and the lessons we can still learn from dr. king in the 21st century. we're glad you have joined it. a conversation with harry belafonte coming up right now. >> there are so many things that wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better, but mostly we're looking
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forward to helping build stronger communities and relationships because with your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports tavis smiley. tavis and nationwide insurance working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> on this very special holiday honoring dr. king, i'm pleased to be joined by one of his dear friends, harry belafonte. they met when they were both in their mid 20's. what was supposed to be a very
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short meeting turned into a five-hour lunch and then a biding friendship. mr. b., good to have you back on this program. >> wonderful to be with you, tavis tavis: let me start by asking how you and dr. king first met. take me back to that first meeting. >> well, dr. king had given me a call and identified himself and said you may not know who i am but my name is martin luther king zwrr and i'm from -- jr. and i'm from montgomery. said to him, i know who you are. i think most of the country does but i'm very pleased to talk to you. he said i'm coming to new york and i'm going to be speaking for the clergy and i'm wondering if during my short visit to the city i might be able to spend a few minutes with you and told him absolutely. as much time as you would like.
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so we met up at the church in the and what should have been a short 30-minute meeting turned into almost five hours and during that time i was deeply caught up in who he was and what he had to say and at the end of our conversation, he made an appeal. he said i'm required to do something and i don't know that i have the gift or the skill to achieve but i accepted to take the journey and i need around me men and women who i think would understand our mission and support me in this cause and i told him i didn't fully understood the mission but he could count on me to be committed to the cause. none of us had anticipated that our journey would have taken the direction that it did, let alone
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achieve he had achieved in this time. tavis: what was the cause that you in your own mind were signing up for that day after that meeting? >> a grand and final thrust towards liberation. towards justice. i had never known black people in america to come to such a place of determination about how to face the conditions under which they were living. segregation. no right to vote. bad employment. lower or second class schooling. all of the above. and in dr. king's voice, i not only heard the passion but i also heard some clarity that the mission would not be short-term. that he was going for the long haul and not since the days of dr. dubois that i heard anybody speak with such affirmation and conviction. about our plight.
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tavis: what did you make of him on a personal level? obviously you have shared with us that you were taken by his presentation and by his commitment to the cause but what did you make of him on your first meeting on a personal level? >> first of all, i knew that he was 26 and i'm looking into the face of this 26-year-old, it was very difficult for me to fathom that he understood and knew so much. his maturity was well beyond his years and his academic information was well beyond the amount of schooling that he had had although he was already the possessor of a ph.d. he had done not only a great deal of homework but an in depth study on human behavior and spirituality and violence. which is really what caught my attention. tavis: i've known -- i've been blessed and honored to have
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known you for years and consider myself one of your friends. i hope you would concur with that. i've always known you to be one who engages young people. who works with young people. who indeed wants to learn from young people. king, obviously was a young man to your point now. you were young yourself, but what was it about him that allowed you to follow him, to work with him, to see him as a leader in his youth? >> two things. one was his understanding and his grasp of what needed to be done even though there were some questions as to how you would achieve those ends but also his morality. he had a deep morale sense about him when he spoke that he was not equivocating. there was no ambivalence. he understood clearly the mission and he understood that
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that mission was worth a price and most of ull, his moral center and he constantly worked on the need for greater moral purpose for america. he felt that as a nation we had no true moral vision. he said a lot about our democracy, our equality, yet all of it was a fass ad for a much -- facade for a much deeper flaw. he could only do it not through political persuasion but through moral persuasion mixed with politics. politics morality, is a hell of a combination. we know what politics is like without morality because that is the way we live. tavis: indeed. indeed. i have talked to any number of persons around dr. king, over
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the years, god rest their soul. all of those that you know so well back during day. i know that dr. king, especially , sought your council and wanted to spend time with you when he was trying navigate himself through difficult periods. he was human. he wasn't human and devine. he got depressed and depond and disturbed and he would talk to you in those moments. what can you tell me about that? >> i was watching just the other night morgan freeman on a pbs interview and he is being asked about mandela and the interviewer asked him how do you think mandela views all of this? he took a pause and he said we will not be remembered.
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and it was a rather prophetic remark coming from a man of his grandeur. i reflected immediately to the moments when dr. king looked into the distance and all he could come up was in the fact that in the final analysis we will not be remembered. not the struggle. that endures. that will always be there but when you stop to think about history, how much we have forgotten and how much we have ever known, who was harriett tubman? who was frederick douglass? do we really know? do we understand how profound their lives were? how soon we have forgotten what it was about only to have to relive that history again. i think we find ourselves in that place right now in america.
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black people are somewhat in a drift in a loss, because they have forgotten who and what we are and who we were. tavis: i can hear somebody challenging you on that respect. saying you can't be serious. we all came together. we elected a black president. we are black and on the move. i can hear somebody challenging you on that point, mr. b. >> that must be one of the brothers who wound up on wall street. [laughter] tavis: i hear you loud and clear. all right. i wasn't expecting that but i should know you and how quick that wit is. what do you say to black people, we have done what we have always wanted to do and they use this
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language that obama's election is the fulfillment of dr. king's dream? >> i say that is a little stretch of dr. king's mission and a little stretch how you can define the conclusion. i think that barack obama becoming president of the united states is a small test in the fact that this nation is in a rather incremental way moving forward. i think it is much to america's credit that it could go to that place, however in the aftermath, i think there are millions who have come to the table to tell you that they wish he was dead rather than alive doing some of the things that he is doing. there is also something else we must take into consideration. barack obama is first and foremost a man. he is flawed. he has his contradictions. he has revealed those
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contradictions. there is a question that we have. do we get behind him and push him to become what we know he should be or do we lay back and watch him drift, watch him capitulate and then say aha, we knew it all along. it is not his conclusion to be ours. is not his fate also to be ours. what role do we as a people play in forcing the mission to go where we know it must go? reminds me of that much-quoted dinner with franklin roosevelt and a. phillip randolph when after a night of talking about politics and race, randolph was eloquent about talking about the problems of black america and white america during the great depression and at the end of the dinner mr. roosevelt said i heard everything you told me and i agree with almost anything and
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you're right, i do have power to make a difference. all i would ask of you is that you go out and make me do it. and i think that we have a task, have received these things going adrift, -- back in afghanistan, we're now going to be pretty soon in yemen, all of these things are beginning to fray at the edges. it is up to the people of america to stake a strong stand and let their voice be heard and not let a small few override the greater interest for the world. we have to play a part that we're not playing. tavis: i'm glad you went there. the story you just told about that meeting between randolph and president roosevelt, you have told that story many times. everybody who knows your work knows that is your story.
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indeed there are press reports that president obama has told that story myself. go out and make me do it. i'm trying to juxtapose that with him really believing those trying to hold him accountable, those trying to push him, i get the sense that many others do that this white house oftentimes takes being pushed at being told what to do, they take being pushed as you're being disloyal. they understood understand necessarily being held to a standard of accountable, being pushed, they don't see that being the wind at their back they need to go out and do what needs to be done. am i making sense here or aim just talking to myself? >> you're making sense. we have no expectations and
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unless you have tasted the bitter taste of oppression that you can speak to us and interpret us, when people speak of barack obama, maybe people who shared a common interest in power at any price, that is not where people come from. that's not where workers come from. that's not where people caught in slavery and oppression come from. no one should interpret us but ourselves. i think when you look at what dr. king did during the years of his mission, one thing that he made sure happened each and every day in the lives of americans was that nobody was comfortable with our oppression. he made those who would ignore us, those who would cheat us in some ways of difference, he made sure that you paid attention and you would pay attention by disrupting your company.
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i think as long as the banks of america, insurance companies of america can razzle-dazzle us with their money and speeches can wind up still in the place of power where they want to reside is the more they will be willing to perpetuate their cause at our expense. we must seriously challenge that. if legislation is not enough then get behind the legislation and put bodies in the streets, put bodies in the place of disruption. butt bodies in the place where it says this -- put bodies in the place where it says this immoral journey will end. tavis: wow, you made the point that they would not be comfortable. everything king said or did, he processed. he didn't do things willy-nilly.
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he knew that every word that comes out of your mouth is going to either deject people or give them hope. when you're barack obama as president or martin king, the leader of a movement, everything you say has value. every word in every speech that came out of his mouth. >> his first and foremost concern was that each step of the way was he still worthy of the role of being our leader? he needed that affirmation from us. he needed that affirmation from people and he led people to places that were to most thinkers unconscionable. how can you lead children into the fray of battle against a murderous oppressor. he plagued over the idea that children should become engaged in behalf of their liberation.
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when he permitted children to participate, it was the moral linchpin, it was the turn in the moment of our struggle when the peoples of the world saw us in n another context as a people. if you could do 20 our young what those police officers and those forces of eevepl in birmingham did, the world saw -- evil in birmingham did, the world saw it. you look at katrina, the abysmal way in which that tragedy was treated was another reflection of a loss of america's moral appetite. it had no deep human regard for the struggle of our brothers or sisters, black and white. in katrina. yet they had billions of dollars to put into a war in afghanistan, into the war with pakistan now, and still with iraq and now moving on to yemen.
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and there are billions of dollars to give away to the banks and everything else that we were always told that no money exists when it comes to the poor and disenfranchised, always the coffers were bear. when do we stand up and say we no longer stand up and accept that thought. we no longer accept that betrayal by our nation. tavis: in just a moment i'm going to share with the audience some information about four primetime specials that i'm honored to be hosting here on pbs throughout the year. we'll tell you more about it in three minutes. one every quarter in this year. in the second quarter of this year, the special will focus on dr. king, specifically the speech that he gave at riverside church in new york where harry belafonte sits tonight. when he talked about getting out of vietnam, the most
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controversial speech he ever gave, it turned 73% of the country against him. the majority of black folk turned against him. the naacp turned out against him. we're going to talk about that speech and deconstruct it piece by piece and make comparisons between then and now, vietnam and afghanistan and iraq. we're going to deconstruct this speech. harry belafonte has agreed to be a part of that conversation. we're going start taping in a few weeks in new york city. harry belafonte, thank you for coming on. good to talk to you as always. up next, a quick preview of those primetime specials here on pbs. stay with us. i hope you will join me on wednesday night january 27 as we debut the first of four primetime specials this year for pbs. the first instaalment of tavis smile write reports focuses on
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secretaryy hillary clinton. granted access to secretary clinton as she traveled the globe. here now a sneak preview, tavis smiley reports one-on-one with hillary clinton. >> reinventing and reshaping the very definition of a talk show. through his presence on tv, radio and the web, his passion for a brighter america has raised the level of discourse in our country. as a result, he has been named by "time" magazine as one of the most influential people in the world. now tavis smiley is stepping out of the studio and taking his vision on the road and having four special reports. i have a great time doing our talk show. it has been one of the great
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joys of my life. there is a great energy being able to get out of the studio. things that you cannot do in the studio. hillary clinton allowing us to get out of the country to travel around the world with her to a number of places. how do you accomplish in 18 months what hasn't been done in eight years? >> there is unfortunately some pretty easy answers to that. tavis: she is basically rounding out year one of being our nation's chief diplomat. there were so many questions about how she and president obama would get along. >> i feel strongly when a president asks you to serve you try to say yes. tavis: we think we know her but this special is a window into her world. i believe that dr. king is the greatest american we have ever produced. his oratory focus on his "i have
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a dream" speech. his speech against vietnam got him in trouble. it turned the country against him. the parallels of afghanistan and vietnam. what he said about vietnam, to be able to compare that with what we're dealing with now, the timing for a real hard look at this speech couldn't be better. what can we learn from our greatest peacemaker in unpeaceful times? the third special is something that i wish i didn't have to do. you cannot commemorate the fivet anniversary of hurricane katrina in 2010 and not be pulled as it were back to new orleans. >> new orleans really, really needs the help of the world. we need worldwide help. >> the distance of history allows you to see things, to
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expand your inventory of ideas, done a collaboration with john deme who went back to new orleans. on the katrina special it is an opportunity to restle with the question. how did this happen and how do we ensure that it never happens again? expect more. tavis smiley reports. tavis: on march 31, our second primetime special airs here on pbs and focuses on dr. king's famous beyond vietnam speech given at riverside church in new york one year to the day before his death in memphis. among the issues, comparisons with iraq and afghanistan. that will air on march 31. in august, our third special focuses on the people of new orleans as we pause to remember
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the fifth anniversary of hurricane katrina. i'll be joined by jonathan deme far look at the rebirth of a great american city. i'll have more information about our fourth special later this year. that's our show for tonight. until election time, thanks for watching. good night from los angeles. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley on >> hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time with actress marian cotollard. >> there are so many things wal-mart is looking forward to doing, like helping people live better. but mostly we're looking forward to helping build stronger communities and relationships. because of your help, the best is yet to come. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports tavis smiley. tavis and nationwide insurance, working to improve financial
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literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. ♪ nationwide is on your side ♪ and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> we are pbs.
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Tavis Smiley
PBS January 19, 2010 12:00pm-12:30pm EST

Series/Special. Harry Belafonte. (2010) Singer Harry Belafonte. New. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Dr. King 11, America 10, Us 10, Tavis Smiley 7, Vietnam 6, Harry Belafonte 6, Pbs 5, Afghanistan 5, New York 3, Clinton 3, New Orleans 3, Roosevelt 2, Mandela 2, Mr. B. 2, Los Angeles 2, Yemen 2, Randolph 2, Birmingham 2, Obama 2, Riverside 2
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Duration 00:30:00
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